Positive Discipline for Adopted ChildrenThree Part Series on Positive Discipline for Adopted Children

Part 1

By Stephanie Williams, MA, LSW

Positive discipline in the adoption world focuses on the development of trust, felt-safety and connection. This occurs by nurturing through relationship, meeting children’s needs and providing a consistent stable environment. This three part series will give an overview of positive discipline basics that will assist parents with getting the best from their children.

Organic Needs

The first and often overlooked component of discipline is to proactively minimize the need for correction by taking care of a child’s organic needs. Organic needs include simple yet important aspects, such as hydration and nutrition. Children should have water and a snack every two hours to support blood sugar, to help them stay regulated and to keep their brains calm. A dysregulated child, one who is acting out, throwing tantrums and whose crying seems extreme or out of place, may simply be thirsty or hungry. Research has found that dehydration and low blood sugar impact learning, memory, attention and behavior.

To keep brains working at an optimal level, children need regular hydration and food. By the time children (and adults) realize they are thirsty, they already have a 10% decrease in cognitive ability. Behavior declines as well. Children may not realize the importance of water, so parents should model good hydration and encourage their children to drink water. They can do so by drinking a glass of water before coffee and always having a water bottle on hand. A fun way to get children involved is letting children choose a special water cup at the store or making water more appealing by flavoring it with fruit or packets of True Lemon or other sugar free powders.

Snacks every two hours help maintain optimal blood glucose levels throughout the day and keep the brain operating most efficiently so that children (and adults) can engage on greater levels. Foods that are lower on the glycemic index, such as cheese sticks, apples, pretzels and veggies, help keep blood glucose levels stable and are good snacks to give children throughout the day. It is also smart to have a basket of non-perishable foods such as packaged nuts, fruit or crackers available to children so that they know they always have access to food. Snacks should be taken along for outings.

All children have these needs, but they do not all know how to vocalize them. When parents are proactive in meeting these basic organic needs, they set their children up for success and reduce negative behaviors. We all want to reduce the number of times we correct our child and to focus more on connecting and relationship building. We know that children with trauma already have greater difficulty regulating their brain and behavior, so these are simple yet important ways to meet their needs, develop trust and reduce anxiety through providing an environment of security and felt safety.